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You read last spring about the eurythmy festival at Rudolf Steiner House and the story of the little white butterfly performed so beautifully by India Armstrong-Brown from The St Michael Steiner School. Michèle Hunter who worked with India, interviews her about her solo project — in the garden of course. Ed.
Michèle: Hello India, thanks for agreeing to meet with me. People have shown interest in hearing a little about your journey with eurythmy this year, leading up to your Class 12 Eurythmy performance. Tell us a little about yourself.
India: My name is India Armstrong and I have just left St Michael Steiner school this summer. I will be going to University next year and am having a year off to work and do my own thing. I chose this story because it was simple and sweet, and it struck a chord with many teenage issues that were coming up at the time, transgender stuff and so on…
[…bits were lost due to technical problems…]
Michèle: Tell me about the costume design that you created. How did it come about?
India: Perhaps it was one of the hardest and most annoying things about the project. I had to come up with a way I could turn from a caterpillar into a butterfly. I had to still find a way to move and continue doing eurythmy. I couldn’t just strip off quickly and get changed on stage so we came up with this weird, embarrassing, green silk tube cocoon-like thing — an absolute mission to create. It looked hilarious but it worked!
M: How did you become a caterpillar in your costume?
I: I had to change the whole way I did eurythmy. I couldn’t move my arms because I had turned into a caterpillar. I had to do my gestures and sounds more internally. I had to move my entire body to make the sounds gestures and be expressive. It felt very good when I could use my hands again!
M: And the story itself was about a creature becoming free!
I: Yes. It became easy to understand what a caterpillar must feel like!
M: Did you design the lighting?
I: I came up with the initial ideas and then I spoke to the lighting director who suggested some amazing ways to do it. So it was a joint effort.
M: How long was the creative process? What was it like for you?
I: I had two terms; about five pretty intensive months. Each week I had two lessons of about an hour. There were some difficult patches. The biggest was understanding the real point of the story. It felt superficial and I didn’t feel I was learning anything. I lost my confidence a bit. But the next week it came back and I felt happy again.
M: What took you to the place where you didn’t enjoy it and what brought you out again?
I: It was after a long period when I had been working on the basic form and sounds and it became a bit boring, really. I didn’t feel I was really getting the help I needed (did she actually say this?) to learn more about what I was doing. Then I had a conversation which took things into a more spiritual realm. I think we had just been doing colours. Then it all seemed to begin to fall into place. And although I’d been doing all this rather boring stuff which seemed so irrelevant, I realised then how much that was actually part of it and I became inspired again.
M: How much encouragement did you need and how much did you actually get?
I: I definitely needed quite a lot at the beginning because I had never learned or seen or heard much before about the zodiac signs, the colours, and the soul gestures. Once I’d had a session or two looking at these things, it all became a bit easier. I became quite independent after a while.
M: Did you perform the piece to different people and how did they respond?
I: I performed it three times: to the college of eurythmists, to the rest of my school, and to the Kindergarten children for whom it was originally intended — completely different audiences. The response from the college of eurythmists was very good and I got feedback which helped my confidence. It was my favourite performance. I didn’t feel so well on the day of the second performance so it didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. My dad couldn’t stop laughing afterwards (I think it was the costume). I kept hearing kids from school singing the song from the eurythmy piece.
M: So the feedback was very good.
I: A lot of people said I had done really well as I had done it myself, as I was so young and as I was the only person in my year group who took up eurythmy. I heard that it had inspired people and that I had done a really great job.
M: So what have you learned about performing?
I: That going on stage as opposed to doing it on your own in a room is completely different. It drains a lot more energy, but it also gives a lot more back in return. I preferred doing it on the stage.
M: And did you learn new things about yourself and eurythmy?
I: Definitely. I attended school lessons in between and things keep cropping up in the lessons that I could link to the project. It created a kind of a ribbon. When it happened I made notes about it in my main lesson book. For instance, when I learned about how houses were built, I could understand better why they were built as they were through working with the soul gestures and the colours.
M: That’s very interesting. And learning about yourself?
I: That I like quiet time and enjoy being by myself. It was completely silent when I was doing eurythmy by myself. Time out is needed to rejuvenate. It was very, very good doing this project by myself. That was probably the nicest thing I got out of it. It would’ve been very different if it had been a big group project.
M: What was the hardest thing you had to overcome?
I: The timing of the performances was difficult as I had our class play, interviews for university, to create the costume, and to finish off my book The fact that I actually got it all done in time is really amazing.
M: What was your greatest delight doing this project?
I: Creating connections, probably, and I’m still doing it now.
M: Do you think this project will influence your life in any way now that you have left school?
I: Spiritual things were brought up in the project and I think that will continue. I’m not sure if I’ll go on with eurythmy as a profession.
M: It seems today that fewer people study eurythmy than used to. Do you have any idea why this might be?
I: That’s a really hard question. I’m sure there are a lot of reasons. I’ve been to two Steiner schools and in them the kids didn’t really want to do eurythmy. It’s not exactly what you would call cool.
M: How can we make it cool?
I: Well you could do it to rap music. When we worked on a song that we all already knew, the class became more alive and people became more independent and creative, especially when they made their own forms.
M: Yes, that does happen more in the upper school where you are at the right age to be independent and creative. Do you remember the name of the song and what made it so inspiring?
I: It was Hallelujah, something we are all familiar with. It was not classical music but something a bit more modern. We worked in two groups. One had a lot more people in it and the teacher had to be more involved with them so they didn’t enjoy it so much. The smaller group had a better time.
Working in a big group can be very frustrating and a small group very inspiring.
M: India, it’s been a great pleasure to talk to you and to hear the experiences of someone young. Thank you so much. It was fantastic that you did this on your own and it was appreciated so much.
I: Thank you so much.